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Published: June 23rd 2006
Back to Africa
My Iberia flight from Madrid crosses over the Strait of Gibralter and brings me back to African soil (top portion is Spain while the bottom land mass is Morocco).
During my two flights to Morocco (London to Madrid, Madrid to Marrakech), I had images of what it would be like. Exotic foods, wonderful smells, traditionally-clad people.
And the country did not dissapoint. From the moment I landed I was thrown into a mixture of visual stimuli including a desert-esque landscape, traditionally-dressed muslims and extremely white Europeans in town for the weekend vacation. All this coupled with the sounds of French and Arabic being spoken very rapidly. I quickly came to realize that not many people spoke English...thus I would be surrounded by people but feel very alone.
I took a cab to the Medina area of the city in search of a place to stay. It was not long until I found that all the hotels were full as it given the European holiday. I persavered and finally found a small hotel among the maze of alleys that is the Medina. The simple room at the Smara Hotel (right near Hotel Essaouira) was 100 Dinah per night (about $13)...use of the shared shower was additional (5 dinah for cold, 10 for hot).
I set out with great excitement to explore the city. A few turns and twists
There are over a dozen of these stands peppered around the Djemaa el-Fna.
along the narrow alleys and I came upon the Djemma el-Fna, the large center square where all the action happens: street performers of all kinds (snake charmers, acrobats, musicians) try to separate tourists from their money while orange juice stand owners yell "try my juice" to the crowds of people milling about. The square is bordered by shops as well as cafes, some with rooftop terraces that are a good spot to sit and watch the circus that is the el-Fna.
It is hard to describe the feeling...but there was something artifical about the scene. The sounds and smells were real...but I almost felt as if I was in the Morocco section of Euro Disney (is there one??). I shook off the thought and headed out to wander further into the Medina. I soon came to realize that Marrakech is a shopper's dreamland with small retail businesses offering everything from shoes to leather goods to spices.
That night I had dinner in the el-Fna which fills up with food stalls (about 40 or so of them) all huddled next to each other. The culinary offerings ranged from grilled meats on skewers to seafood and soups. It was a
Surrounding the el-Fna are shops offering all kinds of trinkets for tourists to bring home.
cool night as the steam and smoke rose above the stalls from the various cookings. It was a true festive scene as the artists in the el-Fna played their music and did their crafts.
The next morning I set out of the Medina and into the proper city. Once you left the Medina walls it was a modern city. Even a McDonalds for those needing a piece of Americana. I walked and walked but found nothing to capture my interest. I did stumble upon a few camels just outside the Medina walls who were resting in an old olive tree orchard. They were used by locals to give tourists rides.
Once again at night I partook in the festivities that is the el-Fna. This time I ate with four French girls who had taken pity on me at an internet cafe and invited me to dine with them. They spoke a little English...which was very welcome after almost 36-hours of struggling with the few French words I know.
The following day I woke early, got on a bus and headed north to Fes.
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